Rosie Roberson Interviews Creative Entrepreneurs

Gavin Mulloy gavin-mulloy

Creative Director of Bomb Factory & Trees

Live Music Venues

Did you have a business plan when you started your business? 


Yes.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship? 


I don’t think anything’s necessary [for entrepreneurship], but I think they are almost required. Like I’ve seen people succeed without them, but I think the ratio of people who’ve had them and succeeded versus didn’t have them and succeeded would probably be pretty high. I think especially in the arts, some people can see through that, so I think there’s a million ways to crack a nut. I think organization is something artists have a bit of a problem with when it comes to getting into the business field.

What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs? 


They’re going have to work harder than their counterparts in other businesses to make less money. And they need to understand that going in, and be happy about it. I think that’s big.

I can’t stress working hard enough, it seems to be the one thing that’s consistent in people who do succeed is they work harder than anyone else. But they also need to be able to collaborate. I think that’s key especially in the arts world. That’s what art is—artist communication. Art is trying to get someone to have a discussion or a thought, and I think if you can’t collaborate, you tend to get a skewed view of what art is.

I would study as many people who are doing things not in your field, because I think we tend to get in a field and then emulate the people already in that field, especially in entrepreneurship there’s a lot to learn from entrepreneurs who aren’t necessarily in the art field but are innovating in other ways.

Jeffery Liles jeffrey-liles

Former General Manager of The Roxy, Los Angeles

Grammy-nominated artist (Cottonmouth, Texas)

Artistic Director of the Kessler Theater

Did you have a business plan when you started your business? 


Yes.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship? 


Yeah, that’s just common sense. [People need a set goal, but] I would imagine anyone in any business would want to have room to improvise. You have an idea/product or whatever it is you want to put out there, but the way you put it in front of the public or the way they choose to engage or not engage; there are a lot of different variables that could lead to success or failure—variables that are out of your control. It could be anything from weather to the economy, so it’s a good idea to have a business plan for who and what and all those obvious business 101 things. But on the other hand, I’ve seen businesses open and fall on their face immediately; but a little tweak here or there and they’re good to go.

What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

Realize where culture, in general, fits into the mosaic of the city that you live in. In a city like New Orleans, Austin, New York, Chicago; music is very important. In places like Dallas or Phoenix, it’s almost something people take for granted. We have Deep Elllum, we have Oak Cliff—but we really don’t have a conscious music heritage in the same way New Orleans or San Franciso does.

If you are living in Dallas, realize what you do and where it fits and try and connect with the people in your city that are going to connect with what you do artistically.

Musicians move to Los Angeles with an idea in place. You’re chasing the dream, that’s why people relocate there in the first place. You kind of see people moving towards Austin because of ACL and SXSW, but I think a lot of musicians move down there and realize there aren’t a lot of paying gigs to be had. It doesn’t make it cost-effective—the industry industry isn’t there. So it doesn’t really do you that much good to be in Austin.

Nancy Hairston nancy-hairston

President & CEO of Vanduzen, Inc.

MedCAD and SculptCAD

3D Printing and Manufacturing

Did you have a business plan when you started your business? 


Umm…. No I didn’t! My company has evolved. So the first company I started didn’t have a business plan. But when I kind of re-directed the company, I created a more comprehensive one. So business plans have been a part of it, but when I incorporated the company I didn’t have one. Then I made a real, academic business plans about 5 or 6 years into starting the company.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship? 


Yes it is necessary, if you want to succeed. I think my situation when I started was that I was a hired gun for companies like Mattel and Fisher Price who needed an artist to do sculpting, so I was kind of ‘Nancy Hairston, Inc.’, in a way. I didn’t know I would grow a company like that. But if you aim to grow a company, you need a business plan. [I was an independent contractor], but then I started making so much money I had to create a corporation and start hiring people.

What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs? 


Technology, number one. Being versed in understanding social media and web and all the marketing tools out there. That’s most important. Because whether you’re a freelance artist like I was when I started or a company like mine now, you have to be able to market yourself and use those tools.

I think good writing skills are another very important thing for artists to have.

Some kind of business class, and understanding of finance. The realities of it, Rosie, are that I had good writing skills and a little bit of knowledge of marketing when I started. I had more of an attitude of, “I’m so good people will come to me.” Which was not a good ego or attitude to have. And I had no concepts or understanding of how finance works or basic business. So I struggled in the beginning.

ANALYSIS:

The preceding market research was conducted on three arts entrepreneurs based in Dallas. Two of the subjects specialize in performance entrepreneurship and one specializes in art through technology. The advice from Ms. Hairston showed a definite contrast from the advice of Mr. Mulloy and Mr. Liles.
One of the most interesting results of this interview came from the first, most basic question: whether or not the subjects had a business plan when they started their business. Mulloy and Liles each helped start extremely successful live music venues in Dallas, while Hairston started a large-scale 3D Printing and Sculpting corporation. One would think Hairston would definitely have started with a business plan, while Mulloy and Liles may have had wiggle room to start without one. However, Mulloy and Liles did in fact have a business plan, while Hairston didn’t even start hers until “five or six years into it”. This was extremely surprising. These results showed that every business is different, and what it needs to be successful may depend on the brainchild of that business or its natural chain of events.

Next, the subjects were asked if they think having a business plan is necessary for entrepreneurship. Liles says it’s common sense; while Hairston and Mulloy starkly disagreed. According to Hairston, a business plan is necessary “if you want to succeed” while Mulloy, “has seen people succeed without them”.

Mulloy made a very interesting point when it comes to, specifically, arts entrepreneurship. He said, “I think organization is something artists have a bit of a problem with when it comes to getting into the business field”. Hairston provided evidence to back Mulloy’s (and Liles’) suppositions; admitting in the beginning of her career that she thought she was so good people would just come to her, and how it hindered her: “[it] was not a good ego or attitude to have. And I had no concepts or understanding of how finance works or basic business. So I struggled in the beginning”.

Hairston totally backed Mulloy’s claim that artists need some kind of business training to go into business. Before the interview started, Mulloy even admitted that he wished the program of Arts Entrepreneurship was around when he attended University of Kansas.

Of all the advice given, Liles’ advice affected me the most. Ever since I began college in Austin, I wanted to break into the music business. Liles, in more or less words, told me that if I really want to do this, it won’t happen in Dallas. Dallas doesn’t have a natural music thread woven into the fabric of its culture. Additionally, it’s very hard to break into the music business from Austin when the “business business” isn’t there at all.

Mulloy and Hairston both stressed basic business smarts as well. This didn’t surprise me, but it was encouraging for the information to be confirmed by successful arts entrepreneurs.

Rosie Roberson, currently a student taking Developing an Arts Venture Plan in the Arts Entrepreneurship program at SMU, Meadows School of the Arts, conducted the following series of interviews. This interview series has been conducted, attempting to identify if creative entrepreneurs begin with business plans and if such plans are perceived as necessary. Advice and commentary follow.

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